In Romans 9:19-21 (NASB)

19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” 20 On the contrary, who are you, you foolish person, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21 Or does the potter not have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one object for honorable use, and another for common use?

My impression is that Paul answers for those who simply want to argue with God. Still, it's a valid question since it may seem unfair that God is sovereign but at the same time holds us responsible for our choices.

If God is making decisions that are beyond our control, then why are we responsible for them?

Note: this question, even though with a different scope, might be interesting.

  • 2
    This is an "old chestnut" upon which oceans of ink (and now electrons) have been spilled.
    – Dottard
    Commented Feb 20, 2021 at 9:40
  • @Dottard I can be content with a certain degree of mystery too (Ecclesiastes 8:17), since I know that independently of how much one tries, they'll still exist. So I'm opened to such answers. Commented Feb 20, 2021 at 9:43
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    @Tiago Martins Peres Does the word "responsible" come in the Bible? You have not defined it. How would you differentiate between "ultimate responsibility" and "instrumental responsibility"? -1
    – C. Stroud
    Commented Feb 20, 2021 at 13:03
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    @C.Stroud in this context we read "find fault". That's what i mean with responsibility (God finding fault). Does that answer your doubt? Commented Feb 20, 2021 at 14:15
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    @Tiago Martins Peres A knife cuts some bread it has instrumental responsibility-it did it-but it could not help it. The hand that made it do it might be seen as having ultimate responsibility but the nature and nurture of the person might have dictated events. Who is in charge of nurture and nature has ultimate responsibility. God or Mr Random? I choose God.
    – C. Stroud
    Commented Feb 20, 2021 at 19:47

4 Answers 4


It is clear that the author here is simply saying that humans have no right to question God, and that's it. Whether that ("have no right") is true or not is a separate question and whether you believe it is true or not depends on your other beliefs.

Yes, it may seem unfair if God is completely sovereign but at the same time holds us responsible for our choices. And if God is making decisions that are beyond our control, then why should we be responsible for those decisions?

But do you actually believe that God is completely sovereign to the point that nobody truly has free will? If so, then yes we cannot be responsible for any choice at all because we simply did not even make any choice!

So the question is only interesting in the other case, where you believe that God does not have full control over some decisions. In that case, it may be reasonable for God to hold us responsible for some decisions that he cannot in advance fix the choice made. One common example that many people believe in is the notion that God does not fix the choice of whether people believe in him. I suppose that the author of Romans leans against this, but is it really important whether that is the case or not? I submit that ultimately what you ought to be interested in is simply whether this belief (that we have at least some free will to choose our beliefs) is true or not.

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    Thank you for bringing up the subject of the "free-will" which is implied in the text. I was slow to bring that concept up and you've gone as far as to show the only scenario where a "potential unjustice" would exist. Also, it helped me personally in specification of the text to reach the point of "and that's why this is a mystery". That's why I think you gave the right answer. Commented Feb 20, 2021 at 11:26
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    In short: punishment under full determinism is unfair, but a hybrid model with determinism + free will intertwined leaves some room for moral responsibility
    – user38524
    Commented Feb 20, 2021 at 13:32
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    @SpiritRealmInvestigator: Yes that's an apt summary.
    – David
    Commented Feb 20, 2021 at 14:33

The header question

If God is making decisions that are beyond our control, then why are we responsible for them?

is answered by Romans 9:20 :

Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? [KJV]

God, alone, is righteous.

Only in Jehovah ... have I righteousness and strength, [Isaiah 45:24 YLT]

For . . . . .

righteousness of God ... is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: [Romans 3:22 KJV]

And . . .

with the heart man believeth unto righteousness [Romans 10:10 KJV]

That is to say : With the heart man believeth unto (the) righteousness (of God) . . .

. . . but not if he disagrees with the only Righteous One about what is 'right'.

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    thank you for this answer too. The reason why is that by «My impression is that Paul answers for those who simply want to argue with God» I was referring to that passage in Romans 9:20 because it seemed an harsh response from Paul to those that seek the answer not to try to undermine God (even though that's not explicit in the text). What I extract from this answer too is that it applies to all people who question it. Commented Feb 20, 2021 at 11:22
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    @TiagoMartinsPeres李大仁 Job attempted to quarrel with the Almighty, mostly indirectly, addressing his disquiet to his three friends. And the Lord did not fail to answer every single objection out of the midst of a whirlwind and in no uncertain terms.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Feb 20, 2021 at 11:25

Reality can only be understood perfectly by looking at it from both vertical and horizontal perspectives. It is a co-reality. Here is a case in point.

Who hardened Pharaoh's heart? Was it God or Pharaoh himself?

Even before the hardening of heart actually happened, Exodus 4:21

[t]he LORD said to Moses, "When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go."

From a prophetic and vertical point of view, it clearly says here that God is going to harden Pharaoh's heart.

On the other hand, horizontally speaking, four chapters later on in Exodus 8:15, we read:

But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said.

Now it says clearly that Pharaoh hardened his own heart while the hardening was actually happening. Note the sequence of events. First, God prophesied that He was going to harden Pharaoh's heart. Second, God hardened Pharaoh's heart. Third, Pharaoh hardened his own heart. Finally, God let us know: See, I told you so. Pharaoh's heart was hardened. God knew that Pharaoh would harden his heart.

If God is making decisions that are beyond our control, then why are we responsible for them?

It is not exactly true that God is making decisions that are beyond our control. We are making our decisions and are responsible. God, in His omniscience, knows that we would do it. In some cases, eg. Pharoah, God made him do it in the sense that God created him. Horizontally, everyone, including Pharoah is responsible. Vertically, God creates all things and knows all things. It is a co-reality.


Matthew 5:17 "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfil". NKJV

Only Jesus could truly say these words as only He is [Romans 1:4] "the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness". Only Jesus could fulfil the Law because of all men only He is holy.

Nothing created could fulfil the Law. He was with the Father before creation John 1:1-"and the Word was with God".

So if Jesus is the only thing/person in creation that is perfect in holiness what does that say about the rest of us? God must find fault with creation compared to Jesus.

Nothing created is perfect because creation is not self-sustaining or able to redeem itself.

God must find fault with everything created because it is not perfect as Jesus is.

But creation is part of His plan which is perfect. "Less than perfect creation" is perfect from the viewpoint that it has a perfect place in His plan.

God's judgement does not by itself prove that we are responsible for who we are. In Matthew 25:31-33 we read "He will set the sheep on His right hand and the goats on the left"-but does that prove that they made themselves? Jesus decides as [John 17:2] "You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him".

The "sheep" and the "goats" are what they are under the authority of Jesus. Judgement, the separation of them, is, in my understanding, having to live with the consequences of how we were made, for which we are not responsible.

  • Jesus' holiness comes not from the humanity taken from Mary (as you say quite rightly, all that is created is imperfect). Jesus' holiness is (as you say quite rightly) from the anointing of the Spirit of Holiness, which Spirit is a Divine person. Therefore Jesus' holiness is not a matter of law ('only Jesus could fulfil the Law because of all men only He is holy.). Humanity (all humanity) is told by God 'thou dost not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil'. Jesus is called 'Jesus Christ Righteous'. And the law, says Paul, is not laid before the righteous. . . . but up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Feb 24, 2021 at 4:24

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